We recently checked out BandFuse: Rock Legends to learn more about the game with Jon Heiner, the game's director. As an amateur guitarist, I had the chance to drill further into what makes the game unique over its contemporaries, what its approach is to new musicians, and how it's all coming together. Having seen Rocksmith recently, I wondered how much of an iteration BandFuse could be over the "Plug in a real guitar and play" formula. However, what we found was that BandFuse looks to be the strongest contender yet to bridge one's love of games with a love of playing music.
It was clear from the get-go that the people behind BandFuse are passionate about their music. One of the primary focuses of the game is to nail the sound, from both the hardware and software angles. From the software side, the title seems to have little to no latency, even when compared to Rocksmith's commendable offering, and a sampling rate is touted to rival that of professional production equipment. From the hardware side, it was mentioned that there will be a peripheral that plugs into the back of the console so players can plug in a set of headphones, not unlike how guitarists jack their headphones directly into their amp.
The direct comparison to Rocksmith is inevitable, and there's no real point in arguing that BandFuse has a much better approach to playing music. While Rocksmith had a novel approach to learning how to play the guitar, the issue was that its note display structure is completely unique to the game and really isn't something that can be used elsewhere. BandFuse, however, has chosen to display its notes in proper tablature format, which is the same format used in the lion's share of the guitar and bass guitar notation that is found in any music store or online. Become accustomed to how BandFuse does it, even if it's your first time holding a pick, and that knowledge directly transfers into experience reading any old tablature book at the local music store.
That's not to say that the note display hasn't been slightly gamified, but it's within reason. Individual notes are colored in the same color order as a Rock Band guitar, with each color corresponding to a finger. This allows for the game to not only show recommended finger positions to hit different chords, but it also makes immediate sense of concepts like barre chords based solely on the notes and colors. The shape around the note can also signify the difference between a regular note and ones such as bends, hammer-ons, pops, pull-offs or slaps. A little ticker above the note bar can also display information, such as the exact chord is being played —yet another tool to help players absorb more real-world knowledge about playing the instrument.
As with its contemporary, BandFuse does not have a failure condition; you'll play through a song regardless of how good or bad your performance is. Although there are five difficulty levels, they do not automatically scale during a song. This allows you to step it up when you feel ready, rather than have the game manically try to adjust things on the fly. As good of an offering as Rocksmith was, it was maddening to have the game artificially inflate the difficulty due to relatively easy stretches of a song, only to then consider you an expert when the guitar part rips into a complicated solo.
This brings us to BandFuse's most interesting feature, the Lick Lab, where you can open up a song and see it broken down into individual parts. If part of a song is giving you difficulty, here is where you can learn it incrementally. At first, you learn it note by note, with the game pausing the track and making sure you hit the correct note before moving to the next. Then, the game starts at 50% speed and goes up in 10% increments until you reach 110%. Rather than playing through entire songs to get a chance at a solo that blows by too quickly, the Lick Lab lets you meticulously pick apart a song and learn the parts that are giving you grief so you can crush it in a play-through.
BandFuse: Rock Legends launches on the Xbox 360 and the PS3, and it was one of the most interesting games I checked out at E3 2013. It is less of an iteration over other games of its type as much as it is an overall evolution of them. Should the finished product stand up as well as its demonstration did, BandFuse is on track to be the game if you want to plug in a real guitar and rock. Look for more information about the title later this year.
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